Last month Harlan came home from school telling me that her tooth hurt. She mentioned that it had started bleeding in school earlier in the day. She was due for a teeth cleaning anyway, so I called her dentist who got both her and Avery in later that week. They told me they would address the tooth issue when we got there as long as it didn’t bother her too much before then.
Harlan has always been a great patient at the dentist. She sits there, still, and just looks at the ceiling while they look at and clean her teeth. On her visit earlier in the year she was told she had a cavity and it had to be filled. Even with that, she didn’t flinch and was a champ.
I expected the visit to be much like the last, they’d take some x-rays, look at her teeth, clean them, and then the dentist would tell us to be on our way. Expect this visit didn’t play out quite as planned.
As they were taking a look at Harlan’s teeth, the woman cleaning just kept looking over at me, then taking notes. I could tell she was concerned, but didnt’ want to say anything in front of Harlan or Avery so that she didn’t frighten them.
Soon after the cleaning the dentist walked in.
“I’m going to have to send her to a specialist,” he said right away.
Turns out Harlan had eight cavities. Yep, eight. They were all in between her molars on both sides, top and bottom. Because there were so many, we needed to go to a pediatric dentist that specialized in these sorts of things.
As soon as he told me the number of cavities that she had, I felt my body just slump. I was a failure. She’d gone from one cavity to eight in less than a year.
All of the sudden I was self conscious with both of them in the room. Were they questioning who I was as a parent? Did they think I just ignored my kids’ dental hygiene? What did this say for me as their mother?
We left the dentist’s office and I immediately called the pediatric specialist to set up an appointment for Harlan. They quickly informed me that it was going to take at least four visits to get her cavities filled. It was soon after that we were spending one day at week at the dentist for the next month.
On our first visit, the dentist took a look at her x-rays and informed me that her cavity that was filled last year had gotten infected. Her tooth needed to be pulled. A cavity on the other side of her mouth was so bad that she needed a mini root canal. These next four visits weren’t going to be easy. And now, not only was I overwhelmed with guilt, but also grief for Harlan who would have to endure it all.
Over the next few weeks I wasn’t sure whether or not to share Harlan’s dental struggles with anyone else or just quietly take her to each appointment. The guilt was so overwhelming. More so than anything else I’ve ever dealt with before. I was so ashamed.
I decided to speak to a few friends about it. I shared my feelings of failure and defeat. Of course they assured me that this was not a reflection on me at all, some kids just have bad teeth. The dentist said the same. He did tell us to try to floss a little bit more often, but other than that, there really wasn’t anything else I could have done.
But hearing these things didn’t make me feel better. It was internally that I was beating my self up. Of course Harlan went to every appointment without hesitation. From getting the root canal to the tooth pulled, she was a champ through all of it. She walked out of every visit with a smile. A lopsided and droopy numb smile, but a smile nonetheless. And that’s when it hit me. If she can endure all of this pain and dental work and proudly show off her silver crown (yes, I know) and the big gap where her molar used to be, then I can proudly say that I’m not ashamed of my job as her mother.
There are things that happen in life that are beyond our control. Some things that others may look at from the outside and question you. But know that as long as you have confidence in you, that is all that matters.
Harlan knows I’m a great mother. And so do I.